(Jan. 17, 1870-Apr. 5, 1947). Born in Dearborn County, Harry Voshell graduated from Aurora High School in Dearborn County. Following graduation, he farmed in Kentucky. He returned to Indiana when he was 29 and farmed in Jackson County until he became the owner of a livery stable in Seymour. In 1897, he moved to Indianapolis and worked for the Indianapolis Steet Railway company. Voshell joined the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) in October 1904 and served at Engine House No. 18. He was appointed lieutenant in 1911 and became a captain in 1914. Indianapolis mayor Samuel Lewis (Lew) Shank appointed him a battalion chief in 1921.

In 1928, Mayor l. ert slack appointed him fire chief. Upon becoming fire chief, Voshell declared that it was his “intention to eliminate from the Fire Department that element of politics and other petty hindrances which interfere in its harmonious working.” During his seven years as chief, Voshell indeed instituted several changes that increased the department’s efficiency. He remodeled all the firehouses and built four new ones, all with modern housing for his firefighters. He centralized maintenance activities and installed a radio communication system in all the trucks and firehouses.

Saving the city thousands of dollars during the Great Depression, he ordered department mechanics to build all new fire trucks and equipment rather than buy them. He also had the department use smaller hoses and fight fires “from inside,” a policy that drew nationwide attention for its ability to put out fires quickly and with less water damage to property. During his term as fire chief, the department had one of the lowest per capita fire rate losses in the country.

Voshell made equally significant contributions by leading relief efforts during the Great Depression. After the stock market crash in 1929, he established two soup kitchens to feed hungry, jobless men. The firemen voluntarily funded the soup kitchens from their wages. The kitchens were located at the department headquarters and at Fire House No. 1, the all-Black unit and only firehouse to include African Americans, on indiana avenue. The fire department served over 340,000 meals. Firemen also delivered coal and food baskets to the needy. 

Mayor Reginald H. Sullivan retained Voshell as fire chief until 1935. When he completed his service as fire chief, he became a drill instructor for IFD with the rank of battalion chief. Following his retirement from the department in 1940, Voshell moved to Pasadena, California, where he died.

Revised February 2021

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